dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Tolerating Intolerance

September 24th, 2021 by dk

You probably think of yourself as a tolerant person. I know I do. Most of us believe we are enlightened, modern beings — embracing differences, celebrating diversity. If anything, we worry (others certainly do worry) that we’ve become too tolerant and may be guilty of enabling antisocial behaviors. We believe tolerance is always better than intolerance.

In belated praise for last weekend’s downpour, I’m going to rain on that parade.

Tolerance has a different meaning to engineers. A car door doesn’t requiring slamming if it is designed, manufactured, and maintained to specified tolerances. If the hinges weaken or the body gets bent, the door may sag and not fit so neatly into the space. The car could have been designed to accommodate more tolerance, but then it would leak water or noise and we can’t have that.

That’s when the slamming begins, and nobody likes slamming. Slamming follows increased tolerances.

Speaking of slamming doors behind you, I remember the day I decided I was going to like school. We were given a cookie and a tiny carton of milk. Our teacher had to demonstrate how to open the carton, pulling a fold apart from beneath with two thumbs, then pressing the carton together at the seam to produce a perfectly designed spout. “Wow,” I thought, “I just learned something useful. This is cool.”

Milk cartons are still designed the same way, but now they have plastic screw caps embedded in the waxed cardboard container. Do you know why? Spreading the glue to close the carton required too much precision. Too much glue and folding wouldn’t neatly open it. Too little glue and it might not stay sealed during transit. It was cheaper to add the plastic cap. Customers no longer tolerate clumsily unfolded origami spouts, genius of design notwithstanding.

Efficiency and economy are fundamentally intolerant.

Ah, but that involves things. We treat people differently. It’s not so easy to keep a distinction between the two. We love low prices, but they almost always come at a human cost. Supply-chain efficiency reduces redundancies, producing higher profits, lower prices but also shortages if any link in that supply chain is disrupted.

Unless all your purchases are with Saturday Market vendors, you will inevitably be rewarding a low bidder who does not tolerate human self-expression.

Amazon built its juggernaut by enforcing tighter and tighter standards, by becoming more and more intolerant of any diversity. We love the convenience of nearly instant delivery. That efficiency flows from a steady stream of intolerances. 

Suppliers must adhere to strict deadlines and procedures. Sorters cannot take unscheduled bathroom breaks. Even Amazon’s branded delivery drivers are surveilled for any driving diversions. People are logistical variables. They are sometimes unevenly glued.

I’ve never lived among people who consider themselves so tolerant. I’ve also never encountered more people who are lactose intolerant or gluten intolerant. It’s as if the body will tolerate only so much tolerance before some sort of somatic symmetry expresses itself.

Tolerating intolerance is tricky business. Modernity is enveloped in its efficiencies. Unfolding that carton takes great care. It won’t always be tidy.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Despairing for Democracy

September 23rd, 2021 by dk

I’m beginning to despair for democracy, at least the style of it that we’ve practiced for the last century. It doesn’t move fast enough to keep pace with the ever-accelerating attitude and appetite of most Americans. The regulatory state has made it impossible to deliver tangible change quickly enough for elected officials to get credit for their work.

Any policy changes legislated today will undoubtedly be slow to be implemented, quick to be challenged in court, and sure to be obfuscated by political challengers. Good governance almost never produced effective sound bites, but that didn’t matter when an incumbent started with the benefit of the doubt.

It’s different today. There are many causes. Politics has become nationalized and popularized. Campaigns are more ruthless. Social media makes everything worse.

Which party has abdicated its public trust depends almost entirely on which side makes sense to you. I personally see the Republicans as nihilistic, anarchists working from the inside. Others see it differently. I acknowledge that and I do my best to respect the difference.

That respect, or my attempt thereto, should not be confused with equivalence. The false equivalence peddled by media has practically created the problem we’re facing today. Republicans have used the rhetorical habit of equivalence to legitimize increasingly radical policies and practices in pursuit of power.

I don’t see Democrats matching them, or even wanting to. Call Democrats principled statespeople or call them wimps or call them  small-d democrats. The result is the same. Democrats can’t make any change happen quickly enough for voters to feel satisfied. Republicans shamelessly promise things with no coherent plan for accomplishing them. 

The electorate is constantly dissatisfied, compulsively looking for a change. Voters no longer recognize or value competence in either party.

Sometime in the next month, the federal government will run out of money. Republicans have refused to lift the debt ceiling because they have every intention of blaming Democrats for wild spending sprees, ignoring their own. If the government shuts down, Republicans will blame Democrats for failing to govern.

I see only one way out for Democrats, but it will take more stomach than they’ve shown and it might not work. If they refuse to cave and let the government shut down and then default on its credit, maybe that will convince Manchin and Sinema to dispose of the Senate filibuster altogether.

The pain will be substantial. Credit ratings will be lowered. Financing our debt will be more expensive. International prestige and trust will be lost. Democrats will  rightly determine it’s not worth it — Republicans are counting on that — unless they use their filibusterless Senate to quickly assert the rules of law and majorities across the nation.

Voting rights must be restored and guaranteed. Elections must be shielded from partisan meddling. We may need term limits for court justices. The electoral college may have outlived its usefulness. Puerto Rico and Washington DC deserve to be states.

I don’t see Democrats using their majorities to punish their opponents, but I also don’t see any other way that their ideals can prevail against these Republicans.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Redistricting Needs Revised Rules

September 17th, 2021 by dk

Oregon Governor Kate Brown has called lawmakers back to Salem on Monday for a special session to deal with redistricting. The Legislature must submit state and federal district maps by Sept. 27. Time is of the essence.

ORS 188.010 delineates five criteria to be used when redrawing the districts, and two that cannot be used. Unfortunately, the guiding statute mixes factors that are quantitative with others that are qualitative. No one can argue with the first set and no one will agree with the second set.

Legislators should be more specific about their considerations than the law requires. Take the first criterion, for example. Each districts must contain the same number of people. It’s very unlikely that the districts will be exactly equivalent. How close must they be? The law’s language — “as nearly as practicable” — is no help. Legislators should specify in advance the maximum deviation they will consider.

The second criteria will attract no debate, but it should. (More on that later.) Each district must be contiguous. Once inside the district, you should be able to get anywhere else in the district without stepping outside it. Third, district boundaries should maintain transportation links, which foreshadows the difficulty to be faced with the fourth and fifth factors.

Legislative boundaries must not divide communities of common interest or be designed to dilute the voting strength of any “language or ethnic minority group.” Good luck finding any agreement between Democrats and Republicans on how this factor should be interpreted or measured. It gets worse.

The final standard to be upheld (and its accompanying prohibition) is the most fraught of all. District boundaries should utilize existing geographic or political boundaries. And yet they cannot be drawn for the purpose of favoring a political party or incumbent. Got that? Utilize political boundaries; don’t favor any political party.

It pains me to say this, but we need fewer English majors and more math nerds writing these rules. “Political boundaries,” “communities of common interest,” and even “transportation links” become terms of art once deliberation begins.

Thankfully, ORS 188.010 does not limit the process to this handful of factors. Lawmakers are free to adopt others as well, especially if they serve to better define the standards listed above. How about adding two more that will enhance the second and third criteria?

We know from generations of gerrymandering that all districts are contiguous, but some are more contiguous than others. To keep districts as compact as possible, each plan should calculate the length of each boundary’s perimeter. Add all the perimeter lengths together and favor the plan with the lowest number.

Transportation links served a useful purpose before citizens communicated primarily without roads or even wires.”Who is my neighbor?” is once again open for discussion. The factor is still worth considering if it can be measured indisputably. I suggest using Google Maps to calculate the longest timed walk between two points inside each district.

As with perimeter lengths, aggregating the maximum cross-district walk times will allow decision-makers to compare redistricting plans. Which proposed map makes the most sense on the ground, literally?


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Customer Service Actuaries Needed

September 16th, 2021 by dk

An unprecedented number of young people are considering — or reconsidering — their career paths. Many have graduated but haven’t found an employment field that will lure them out of their parents’ basement. Even more — 40 percent of young professionals, by one count — say that COVID-19 has them reconsidering their employment future.

To these young people, I make this plea. Consider becoming a Customer Service Actuary. Don’t bother searching for this job title. Companies are not yet looking for people with these skills, but they should be. Get hired as a Customer Service Actuary and you’ll be a hero!

How many times have you been placed on hold with a message that sounds like this one? “We’re experiencing a higher than expected call volume, which may prolong your wait time. We appreciate your patience as we service other customers.” Yesterday, I was told at my local pharmacy that they were still backed up because of last week’s holiday.

Young people increasingly want jobs that make a tangible difference in people’s lives. What could be more satisfying than helping companies figure out that a holiday will reduce the number of workdays in that week by 14.29 – 20 percent? If demand for prescriptions remains unchanged, a staffing increase will be required to maintain a steady workflow.

The math isn’t difficult. I did it for you (and for the prescription counter) in the paragraph above. Simply estimate the amount of calls likely to be placed. Divide that by the acceptable wait time for each and Voilå! You’ve estimated how many service reps will be necessary to handle the expected volume. Fewer frustrated customers, less bedraggled employees, one company hero.

Careers like this one tend to swing like a pendulum between English majors and math majors. After World War II, English majors made a good living writing different versions of “New & Improved” on all consumer products.

Then came desktop computing and that label space became devoted to “33% more” or “Large for the price of Medium!” Math majors held sway and English majors fell away.

(True story. I noted that transition in 1994. That column got picked up by a newspaper in Alabama. A colleague of my brother at NASA saw it. My brother mailed me a copy for my birthday so we were both surprised.)

The pendulum eventually swung back. English majors found themselves again in demand, crafting evermore creative apologies for when company policies are working as intended. “We apologize for any inconvenience” sounded so much better than “We decided we’d rather have you wait than the people we’re paying.”

We’ve now reached the apex of apologies. Companies are no longer apologizing for their policies. They claim to be embarrassed about all those other customers who got in line before you! Eventually people tire of apologies — even nearly perfect ones. An opportunity for number-crunchers is emerging.

If this sounds like a career you would consider satisfying, call your favorite company today and offer your services. If they put you on hold because of higher-than-anticipated call volume, they’re really telling you they need your Customer Service Actuary services today!


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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What’s Changed Forever Now?

September 10th, 2021 by dk

“What’s gone away recently, never to return?” Somebody asked me that question recently. It really got me thinking. I’ll give you my best two answers, but I’ll pause first for a paragraph or two. How you would answer that question? You can put down the paper for a moment to ponder. I’ll wait. Or just read the next paragraph slowly while think.

How good are the Ducks going to be this football season? I know Coach Cristobal wants his team to be strong and determined, but does that require play calling to be stubborn and conservative? Can we throw in some flashy plays, just to keep the opposing team guessing? Those plays please fans, but they also probably help with recruiting.

OK, where were we? What has changed recently that’s unlikely to change back? My first answer was loneliness. It seems as though it has vanished, but it hasn’t. We need new metrics to monitor loneliness. It’s become too easy to find people who agree with us, who think the way we do, who make us feel good about ourselves.

Social media makes those connections very easily, but are they real enough to make us feel less alone, or less afraid of being alone? My hunch is those connections won’t remedy loneliness, even though they eliminate the condition that we think causes it.

You might have thousands of Facebook friends, hundreds of followers on Instagram, and still feel the ennui of disconnectedness. You can join chat rooms or Reddit threads where everybody is talking about all your favorite topics, yet still worry that none of it matters, that you don’t matter.

Social media gives salt water to a thirsty man. The more he drinks, the more he wants.

This has dire societal consequences. We shun and shame people to dissuade them from unproductive behaviors and beliefs. We’ve used ostracization as enforced loneliness to reel outliers back into the mainstream. Now it only drives them to further extremes. They can always find like-minded cohorts, if they dive deep enough.

My second answer connects to the first. I think a sense of “place” has gone away. At least it can no longer be assumed. I grew up in a world where voice and place were always attached. Even if it was over the phone, I always knew within a few feet exactly where somebody was sitting. Everyone’s phone was in the kitchen, tethered by an 8-foot cord.

Then came laptops and later cell phones. We’ve now mastered video calls with digitized backgrounds. Employers allow telework. Taken together, any of us can be anywhere. But when everywhere is a possibility, is “nowhere” the reality? Here again, we’re trying something new, wherever “here” is….

Then came cordless phones, laptops and cell phones. We make video calls with digitized backgrounds. Employers allow telework. Taken together, any of us can be anywhere. But when everywhere is a possibility, is “nowhere” the reality? Here again, we’re trying something new, wherever “here” is….

Can humans function without a sense of home and without relying on the connections that come from physical proximity and personal history? I don’t know, but we’re all about to find out.

Maybe that’s why we care so much about college football. It gathers people with shared passion and history into a specific, recognizable place. No one inside Autzen Stadium feels lonely.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Texas Law Invites a New Underground Railroad

September 9th, 2021 by dk

No matter how you feel about abortion or how strongly you feel it, you should be dismayed and distressed about Texas. Its new “Heartbeat Law” forbids any abortion after six weeks and explicitly removes government from its enforcement.

The law sets up a Rube Goldberg system of enforcement through the state’s civil courts. It rewards so-called bounty hunters with a minimum $10,000 prize for any conviction, but nothing to defendants, even if they prevail.

Its diabolical design reminded me of Bill Sizemore’s various anti-tax crusades that twisted Oregon’s systems in his favor. Describing some of his clever legislative contraptions will take up too much room here. Try searching his name and “double majority” or “property tax compression” to start.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, no stranger to underhanded tricks, has vowed to defend women and clinics in Texas with federal agents. But his tools are extremely limited. The FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) Act protects women entering clinics, but that’s about it. Once they leave the clinic, Texas law takes over.

It’s somewhat misleading to describe Senate Bill 8 as part of Texas law because law is defined as “the collection of rules imposed by authority.” But the authorities cynically removed themselves from this law’s imposition. Because its enforcement comes from random individuals through the civil courts, the federal courts cannot review its constitutionality.

In place of any sort of government enforcement, Texas lawmakers have declared that vigilantism is a suitable substitute. This is what everyone should find disturbing. Does it count as anarchy when government authorities knowingly tie their own hands?

I’m sure that pro-choice activists are drawing up plans already to flood Texas — and soon other copycat states like South Dakota and Florida — with activists willing to squire pregnant women to other states, where they can safely and legally end their pregnancies. Those activists will then return them to the Texas border with bus fare to get them home.

The woman whose pregnancy ended cannot the prosecuted, but anyone aiding or abetting her instantly becomes a target for civil suit. But the state civil court system cannot reach defendants outside Texas Those aiding the women would become fugitives, risking arrest if they returned to Texas. Most wouldn’t consider being barred from entering Texas as any great loss.

Texas could be inspiring a modern recreation of the Underground Railroad.

There’s already talk of applying SB8’s dastardly lack-of-logic to other changes that have failed as conventional laws. Californians have suggested this tack might be the best way to punish those who own or use guns without triggering (sorry) a challenge based on the Second Amendment. What anti-gun activists need is a well regulated militia of litigants!

Where else might government delegate its core responsibility, using bounty hunters for rogue enforcement? Sloppy recyclers? Unkempt lawns? Texas visitors? Settling for a field goal when the home team is behind by six with less than eight minutes to play?

It’s not technically “taking the law into your own hands” when lawmakers give it to you.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Congress Ignores its Own Experts

September 3rd, 2021 by dk

Sen. Ron Wyden shouldn’t be surprised if he gets a call from Rep. Peter DeFazio, warning him not to work too hard on the upcoming $3.5 trillion Build Back Better reconciliation package. DeFazio has shown no signs of bitterness about the first infrastructure bill, now sitting in the House docket, but no one could blame him.

When DeFazio arrived in Congress in 1987, he was like a freshman on campus without a declared major. For somebody as curious and wonkish as DeFazio, he must have felt like a kid in a candy store. He joined the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation, as it was known back then.

He focused on highways and transit, building on what he had learned as a county commissioner across one of the most diverse terrains in the country.

He rose to chair the ground transportation subcommittee as those with more seniority retired. He became the ranking Democrat on the House Committee for Transportation and Infrastructure in 2015. He waited four more years for Democrats to win the House majority (making him Chair), and then two more for a Democratic President (making it matter.)

In 2021, after more than 30 years of on-the-job training, DeFazio finally reached the pinnacle of his political career. The timing looked perfect. Transportation funding packages are assembled roughly every six years, so this year was his first chance to put to work all that he had learned over four decades about moving people and stuff around.

Never one to avoid hard work, DeFazio rolled up his sleeves. He oversaw the committee’s work with 67 of his colleagues and hundreds of staff members. DeFazio sponsored HR 3684 – Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on June 4, 2021. It passed the House less than a month later.

Then the Senate threw it all out. They kept the container of HR 3684, but emptied it of all of DeFazio’s hard-earned expertise. Then they stuffed the container with what a handful of Senators (with nothing approaching the same expertise) thought would be better. They paraded their alternative for TV cameras. It passed the Senate and awaits a rubber stamp from the House.

Could you blame DeFazio for being livid? He may feel compelled to warn his Oregon colleague in the Senate. Wyden has risen to be Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. His committee has been charged with formulating the funding for the gargantuan reconciliation package, so that it completely pays for itself.

In fact, Senate leaders want it to raise an extra $1 billion, so they can claim they are paying down the federal debt. (To spare you the math, that projected “surplus” amounts to less than 0.003% of the total funding package. Cynical? Yes.)

You might think that Congress would respect the work of its committee structure and its resident experts. Think again. Inevitably, the work will get supplanted by a few high profile members with back-of-envelop calculations who don’t like the sound of this or that. Will Wyden’s deep knowledge — his Congressional career began in 1981 — be respected? DeFazio’s wasn’t.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Is Government Too Big? Order a Pizza!

September 2nd, 2021 by dk

The images and stories coming from Afghanistan are heartbreaking. Can we put them out of our minds for just a couple of minutes? There’s a larger lesson to be learned here for our government. It involves Joey’s Pizza in Springfield.

No, I don’t have a plan to airlift pizzas to the airport in Kabul, though that might not be a bad idea. I’m thinking about thousands across Oregon who may soon be facing homelessness. They too might benefit from one of Joey’s Beer Drivers Specials, but that’s honestly not my point here. I’ll get to Joey’s in a minute. I promise.

President Biden met with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani in the White House on June 25. Ghani reportedly had only one immediate request. He asked that the United States begin leaving his country quietly, so it would not look as if America lacked faith in his government. Our sudden departure could create chaos in the streets.

Now we know what Ghani must have known all along. We’re a lumbering giant who cannot do anything quietly. Every move our government makes causes chaos in the streets. We don’t know how to adjust our strategies to the size of our influence. Ghani effectively tied Gulliver down for an extra two months while planning his own quiet departure.

On some level, Biden must have known it too. Our society is built around personal choices. Our execution will always be messier than what a totalitarian regime can offer. That’s not because we lack total control. It’s because we refuse to exert total control. Most of the time, messiness flows from our strength, not from our weakness. (This bungled operation might be an exception.)

Regardless, we need to learn some new tricks. Every government ending is likened to a cliff. There are many ahead: Pandemic unemployment benefits, student loan forgiveness, mandated foreclosure forbearance, a moratorium on evictions. Each will be felt as another abrupt exit.

You can expect stories of people who were overlooked, who are suddenly suffering, who needed just a little more help to get on their feet — just like the Afghan army! Every withdrawal will look heartless someplace. There will always be bad optics.

We should be able to means-test each benefit program, scaling back support but protecting the neediest. But those who game the system guarantee more bad optics. We used a birthday lottery system for our last military draft. It was heartbreaking to send young men into combat based on chance, but it wasn’t unfair and there were no collective cliffs.

Joey’s does something slightly different. (I always keep my promises when pizza is involved.) They offer everyone an almost-half-price pizza every month, based on the first letter of their last name. On the 11th of each month, I get a special deal because K is the 11th letter in the alphabet.

Could the federal government use Joey’s method, curbing benefit programs gradually but still predictably? We need some new thinking to avoid the next cliff and the cliffs after that. A good pizza might help us reach some different, softer conclusions.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Masks are the New Bike Helmets

September 1st, 2021 by dk

Nobody wants to think about mask mandates, so let’s talk about bike helmets. I took a long walk this morning through downtown during the morning rush hour. I didn’t count the number of bicyclists I saw. It was certainly dozens and maybe more than 100. I didn’t see any exposed skulls.

It wasn’t always like this. When my boys were in grade school, our pediatrician, Dr. Blanton, ended his annual checkups with a checklist for parents. Car seats, vegetables, bedtimes, book-reading, exercise, TV limits — it was a long list. We thought we were doing everything right, until he got to bike helmets. “Gotcha!” he whispered.

The good doctor didn’t need to show us statistics about concussions and brain injuries from naked noggins speeding along pavement without protection. We slapped our foreheads hard enough that we might have wished we’d been wearing helmets inside the doctor’s office.

We started wearing helmets after that, but grudgingly. I missed the air tossing my hair, drying my sweat in the wind. I missed feeling as carefree as I did when I was a teenager. It felt like a genuine loss back then. Now it feels just like the right thing to do. I’m sure my parents felt the same way about seatbelts — a necessary precaution, a small discomfort.

My siblings and I never thought twice about seatbelts. Driving without buckling in would feel weird, even slightly uncomfortable. My sons probably feel the same way about bike helmets. If so, Dr. Blanton would be proud.

It wasn’t very many years ago that bike helmets were still seen as optional. I remember thinking it was a little bit crazy when the city of Eugene spent a summer repainting those pavement signs that indicate bicycle lanes or bicyclists merging. They updated the symbol to make sure the bicyclists portrayed wore helmets.

Changes come slowly. There are always early adopters who immediately embrace any update to the social code. Those bike commuters I observed are undoubtedly different from leisure riders. My sample size was insufficient to claim that we’re near unanimity, but the trend lines are clear.

Some of us change our habits only after somebody we respect points it out. Those who continue to resist change may come along only when they feel alone in their resolve. When even the bike symbol figure is wearing a helmet, it might be time to rethink.

Trouble is, it’s harder to make people feel lonely these days. There’s probably a Facebook group for people who refuse to wear seatbelts, congratulating one another for not becoming sheeple in response to government mandates. Statistics show that even bicyclists with helmets can get concussions, so why give up the hair-tossing wind of freedom?

Will masks or vaccine shots eventually become like bike helmets and seatbelts? I know, I know! We all want to scream at the prospect. We don’t want to feel constrained forever, and maybe we won’t have to. But our children will adapt more quickly than we will. If these inconveniences must become the new normal, they will eventually feel normal.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Biden Shows Skill and Will to Exit Afghanistan

August 20th, 2021 by dk

It was always going to end this way. Most expected it be slower and less chaotic, but the outcome was all but certain. It’s a thrill to ride a tiger, until you want to get off. Joe Biden warned President Obama in 2009 against sending more troops to Afghanistan. Better to save lives than to save face. Choosing the latter was always easier.

President Biden pledged not to do that. He promised to end America’s Forever War, just as his predecessors did. Unlike them, he sent a son into combat. His long tenure in the Senate inured him to jangly-chested commanders’ dire projections. He vowed to keep his word and he did.

He might wish today he’d managed the calendar differently. Christmas might have been a better homecoming deadline. Winters are brutal in the mountains of Afghanistan. Everything slows down with shorter winter days. Instead, brace yourself for raucous Taliban celebrations on the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11th. They won.

The outcome was almost never in doubt. Build an army for the 21st century for a culture stuck in the 7th century? There was never a happy ending in sight. Biden was right to ask the dispositive question: “If not now, then when?” The answer has been “later” and “soon” — but always, definitely “later.”

Biden knew better. “Later” equals “never.” He showed courage to match his conviction.

It’s a shame the move soured so quickly. Biden had just achieved something that no president in recent memory has accomplished. Nineteen Republican Senators crossed the aisle to vote for a major piece of legislation, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. A second initiative followed, promising to strengthen the social safety net. Biden could tout domestic nation-building not imagined for generations.

Unfortunately, Biden’s FDR moment was cut short by his Harry Truman moment. How long might WWII have continued if Truman hadn’t dropped atomic bombs to end it? Was that the right thing to do? Or was it the only thing that could be done?

Truman was expected to lose the 1948 presidential election after taking such decisive action to end the war he inherited. Biden surely understands his electoral prospects will be dimmed by the television coverage that blankets rough transitions like this one. LBJ couldn’t win reelection after biting the bullet and passing civil rights reform. Maybe Biden knows that will be his fate too.

If so, he should be asking himself, “What else have Americans endured for too long because the ending is sure to be ugly?” Are there any other public policy grenades he can throw himself on before leaving the Oval Office? He’d be a hero to end some of America’s never-ending controversies.

Modernizing the filibuster? Curbing the defense budget? Legalizing marijuana? Demanding more accountability from police and teachers, angering their unions? Paying reparations? Nationalizing the power grid and adding Internet service? Strengthening voting standards and women’s reproductive rights?

It was our last president who promised to shake things up and deliver more than incremental change. It’s our current president who demonstrates the skill and the will to do it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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